How To Hike At Night
By Di Westaway | Founder and Chief Adventure Chick at Wild Women On Top
Few things are as thrilling as venturing out into a moonlit night to explore your local trails after dark. The chance to spot a cheeky owl hidden in the trees, to see the silver trail of the moon over water, to enjoy a clifftop cuppa while nature breathes, to gaze up at the Milky Way, or to feel the exhilaration of scampering through the forest like kids while the rest of the world is locked indoors.
At night, even your local park or reserve feels magical and exciting. And it’s a great way to escape the summer heat, add adventure to your life, and increase your nature time.
For many mums, sneaking out for a hike after putting the kids to bed brings a little slice of serenity to our busy lives. It might even be the only time you can squeeze in a good 3 hours of fun without cutting into treasured family time. This was certainly the case when I started Wild Women On Top nearly 20 years ago.
As working mums in our early forties, this was our only opportunity to put our heavy packs on and go wild without losing child-free brownie points with our husbands. In my case, I left my baby with my teenage kids with only a little guilt, and always felt grateful and happy for the time spent hiking with the girls.
This experience has also given me the confidence to hike at night in the Himalayan mountains, which has provided me with some of the most magical moments of my life.
If you’re new to hiking at night, here are my top tips to ensuring you stay safe, improve your mental tuffness and resilience, get fitter and stronger and have a fabulous adventure.
Stick to local tracks
Stick to local tracks and trails that are easy to follow with known exit points en-route. If you’re not sure, download the “All Trails” app or put your phone maps onto ‘satellite’ mode and check out what’s around your neighbourhood. For newbies, it’s a good idea to reckie the trail in daylight before heading out at night. As you get more experienced, you can venture further afield.
Don’t go alone
It’s amazing how your imagination can run wild when you’re alone in the dark in the forest, so go with at least 3 friends and stick together. This is best done by allocating a leader and a “Tail End Charlie” to ensure nobody gets left behind. If you do find yourself separated from the group, stay calm and stay put. Call them and they’ll come find you.
Tell your family/friends where you're going
Ensure somebody else knows where you’re headed and what time you’re expected home.
Bring a head torch
Bring a head torch that has both white and red lenses, plus spare batteries. Try to use your night vision first to get the best possible night-time experience. It takes about 45 minutes for your night vision to fully tune in but it's well worth the effort. If you don’t feel save under foot, use your red lens first. If that fails, go for the white light. However, be careful not to shine your head torch into anybody’s eyes as this will knock out their sight.
Taking your time to enjoy the experience of being immersed in nature in the dark is cool. It's also safer.
Stay on the trail
Stay on the trail unless you’re super experienced, and be alert for hazards, both underfoot and overhead.
Pack your essentials
Always pack a thermos, water, raincoat, chocolate, survival blanket, basic first aid, charged phone, and some extra layers of clothing. And if you’re training for an upcoming adventure, put some extra weight in your pack to improve your strength while you walk.
Bring trekking poles
Bring your trekking poles and use them when you feel the need for extra support or balance or if you’re carrying a heavy pack. It's much easier to stumble at night and your poles will give you extra confidence while you’re learning the ropes.
Build confidence close to home
Build your confidence close to home on easy trails. Once you know what you’re doing, you can add a sunset-to-night walk to your weekend adventures and even explore rock scrambles and coastal rock shelves.
Hike at full moon
Try hiking by the light of the full moon without a head torch. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to see in the dark when the moon lights your way.
By knocking out some of your vision, you’re forced to use your peripheral vision when hiking at night. It also hones your other senses, especially hearing. So make a plan to do some of your night hiking in silence. It’s a tough test for many of us, but you’ll be amazed at how transformative it can be.